Brexit talks failing to address citizens' rights

Written by Kristina Howells on 1 August 2017

Brexit map | Photo credit: Adobe Stock

The position of expatriate EU citizens living in the UK and that of UK citizens living in other EU member states has singularly failed to be addressed, writes Kristina Howells. 

A great deal of water has passed beneath the bridge since our petition was submitted last September.

Despite that, our contention remains that the position of expatriate EU citizens living in the UK and that of UK citizens living in other EU member states has singularly failed to be addressed. 

On the contrary, the previous UK Conservative government repeatedly made it clear that it would not give any guarantees to EU citizens living in the UK until parallel guarantees were given by other EU states for British people living in those countries. 


In contrast, the Labour party in its election manifesto specifically said that if it had won the election and come to government, such guarantees for EU citizens in the UK would immediately be given, irrespective of any equivalent guarantees from other member states.

The result, so far, has been acute uncertainty all around, with EU citizens who have lived in the UK for many years, some of them born there, seriously considering their position; families at risk of being broken up; and some people whose contribution to UK life and professional services is of undoubted value, having already left in despair. 

The EU draft working paper, 'Essential principles on citizens' rights', of 24 May 2017 addresses the matter in apparently generous terms as a basis for negotiations during the period leading up to the withdrawal agreement. 

The response from the UK side is totally unpredictable despite the EU case being based solidly on legislation fully adopted into British law. The Great Repeal Bill may not see the light of day. It is therefore more important than ever to make the case now for the rights of expatriates both living in the UK and in the EU27. 

Our own interest is particular to the north of France. However we are part of a far bigger picture, and the position of British people in different countries varies. For example in Spain and southern Europe generally, the British contingent consists of mainly retired people. 

In the UK, French residents tend to be younger professionals, whereas in France, although there are many retired people, there are also working professionals and others who have chosen, thanks to freedom of movement, simply to live in a particular country. 

Those who have presented more general evidence to the British Parliament have been struck by the level of ignorance among the people's representatives. The difficulties of expatriates in other EU states have simply not been thought through. 

For example, on healthcare the possible suppression of reciprocal facilities throughout the EU will present a new, more complex and costly challenge to travellers and residents alike. 

Will we, in France, be able to keep our 'carte vitale'? It has already been estimated that the return of expatriates to the UK because they can no longer afford healthcare in their present countries of residence, will cost the already struggling National Health Service an extra £500m per year. 

Those of us who have made our home in the EU will simply become foreigners, with an inevitable loss of rights and status unless these matters are taken into account. That is the core argument of our submission. In addition, British expatriates seeking citizenship or permanent right of residence in their host countries have been baffled by apparent ignorance among officials, and by the sheer complexities of the procedures. 

Currently, there is an opportunity to rectify matters. We fully support the 'Essential principles on citizens' rights' and urge that they be strongly argued as rights rather than merely principles.

The British position is already weakened. Labour's promise to give immediate guarantees to non-British people living in the UK will have gained traction. 

Levelling the playing field in the spirit of tomorrow's Europe should thereby be made easier - to the relief of millions of whom we form part.


About the author

Kristina Howells represents the British association Côte d'Opale.

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